...if I can help a person appreciate a different culture or region of the world, it might just lead to better understanding and acceptance among all human beings.
— Jennifer Bagshaw

Hometown: Ashland, Oregon

ITMI graduation year: 2013

Travel bucket list: Antarctica, India, and riding the Orient Express across Asia

Tour essentials: Smartphone, charger, paper backup copies of tour docs, presents for your coach operator, and a change of underwear

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

My lifelong love of travel and teaching is what inspired me to look into becoming a tour director. My job was not quite stimulating enough for my intelligence, sense of humor, and passion for teaching, so I literally googled 'how to get paid to travel,' and ITMI came up as an option...the rest is history. 

What did you do before you became a tour director?

If you've ever wondered what happens when you mix a middle school sex-ed teacher with a drummer in a bagpipe band, you need wonder no more...you get me! I was a middle school science and social studies teacher for nearly a decade before choosing to stay at home with our boys when they were young. I eventually transitioned into owning and operating a retirement community of 180 homes, which I still run today. I choose to work part time in the tour director industry to help make sure I have enough quality time with my family, and to make sure my business runs smoothly. 

How do you balance your personal life with your travel career?

This balance has been a bit of a challenge for me. My husband also travels for work, and we have two teenaged boys at home that still need us, even if they don't want to admit it. We have an online family calendar that is set in stone, and we make an effort to find time to be together as an entire family before committing to being gone yet again. My first year of tour directing I was so excited to be offered work that I over committed myself, and I've not made that mistake again. I can also be found curled up with a good book, or drinking wine with my girlfriends. I do a lot of road cycling with friends, and still manage to travel to new places each year in order to keep expanding my experiences.

What qualities do you feel make for a good tour director?

Without a sense of humor, being a tour director would eventually wear a person down to a crying blob of jelly. Tour directors should be organized and efficient, yet ready to be flexible and creative when necessary...and it will be necessary. Some people are naturally gifted at showing up to an unknown spot and making it work, but my personality style doesn't work that way. I'm not good at 'flying by the seat of my pants', so I am selective in the tour operators that I am willing to work for. If they're not willing to send me on a training tour or two, I don't work for them! I like to show up over prepared for each tour so that I don't have to work so hard during the actual trip. 

What advice would you give to a first-time traveler?

Read your tour documents carefully and don't over pack. Be ready to be challenged, have fun, and be flexible. Your tour directors are your best resource on the trip. Treat them well, and they will go to the moon and back for you.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Antarctica, India, and riding the Orient Express across Asia.

What are the things you must always take with you?

Smartphone, charger, paper backup copies of tour docs, presents for your coach operator, and a change of underwear

What are some of your favorite tours or places you have visited as a Tour Director?

I truly love spending time with groups throughout my home state of Oregon, as well as the rest of the Pacific Northwest. My comfort level and knowledge of the geography and history of this area really help improve the quality of my overall tours. I have spent a handful of seasons leading tours in Washington, DC and I have a special place in my heart for that city as well.
When I first started in this industry, I thought I would want to do international tours right away, but some of my best experiences have been with local tours closer to home. I've found I can make mistakes and learn from them in a much more comfortable environment that way. 
I have now begun leading international tours for a small travel company, which I enjoy immensely. I don't want to be away from home for 30-60 days at a time, which many large tour operators require for international work, so the smaller travel club has really met my needs. I aim to be gone on tours roughly one week per month as the year unfolds. My favorite tour thus far with them has been to Costa Rica. Pura vida, baby.

Do you have a moment or a story you would like to share about something that has particularly touched you on a tour?

I was taking a group of people from England throughout the Pacific Northwest, and one of our stops was at Mt. St. Helens National Park. One of my guests shared that she gave birth to her daughter on the day the mountain erupted and had named her daughter Helen. She had always wanted to visit the mountain, and this would be her only opportunity. As we approached the mountain it was proving elusive, and we couldn't see it very well; but as we pulled into the observation area, the clouds cleared, and it emerged in all its glory. My guest and I sat on a bench and cried together at the beauty of it all. I snuck into the gift shop and bought her a little vial of ash from the eruption and gave it to her on the last night. She still sends me thank you notes TO THIS DAY for that special experience.

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

Tour directing has helped me realize that people all around the world are full of wonder and curiosity, and if I can help a person appreciate a different culture or region of the world, it might just lead to better understanding and acceptance among all human beings.   

What advice would you give someone if they wanted to become a tour director or guide?

I would tell an interested person that without ITMI, it will be astronomically more difficult to break into the tour director world. Not only does ITMI help you have access to a variety of tour operators who are looking to hire new people, but the connections that you make with your classmates and other tour directors at Symposium are invaluable.  In my past lives I always worked in the public sector, so never really understood the value of networking, but in this industry it's largely about who you know who can recommend you when a position opens. The connections made at ITMI are priceless and long lasting. I would also recommend to them that they put away many months worth of expense money to ease them through the transition period. When you're first starting out, the jobs can be few and far between, so the money put away is helpful to keep you afloat.